The Manchester derby: A clash of two playmaking heavyweights
It was a moment no one saw coming… well, almost no one.
The midfielder steps up, a packed Old Trafford has a collective intake of breath, expectantly watching, waiting, hoping that a Manchester United head will make contact with the ball.
Instead, Bruno does what few other players in world football would have the audacity and composure to pull off. The Portuguese international casually scoops the ball to Anthony Martial, fooling around 75,000 inside the Theatre of Dreams, and 11 Manchester City men!
It’s moments like these that can so often decide the outcome of a derby - think Rooney’s overhead kick, Giggs’s pass out to Owen, Scholes’s late run into the box. Those split-second decisions can determine where the points, and the bragging rights, end up.
And when it comes to game-changers, Saturday’s clash will showcase two of the very best in the business.
The Belgian has been the scourge of countless sides in recent years and last season De Bruyne was voted Premier League Player of the Season, PFA Players' Player of the Year and finished second in the UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award.
But perhaps his standout achievement of last term was registering 20 league assists, equalling the record set by Thierry Henry for the most in a single Premier League season.
There’s no point denying the calibre of player City have on their hands, and he’ll certainly need some special attention on Saturday. But, despite the many accolades De Bruyne has been given in the last few seasons, there is one midfielder whose numbers stack up favourably against the 29-year-old.
In fact, only one player has created more chances than De Bruyne this season, and that's Bruno Fernandes.
The pair are also tied for the joint-most passes into the area (30), while only Harry Kane has been involved in more goal-creating actions than the Manchester duo.
Bruno’s goalscoring stats also compare favourably with De Bruyne - the United man has an overall goals-per-game ratio of 0.63 throughout his time in the Premier League, in contrast with the Belgian’s tally of 0.23.
It’s also worth noting that Bruno registered the most chances created from open play in a single league game this season when we beat West Ham United last weekend. The midfielder fashioned eight scoring opportunities from just 45 minutes on the pitch!
It’s this quality and determination that has so endeared Fernandes to a group of supporters who have only witnessed him play in the flesh on a handful of occasions. The 26-year-old has a unique capability to single-handedly determine the outcome; to roll up his sleeves, get down to business and ultimately win football matches.
As well as his contribution against the Hammers, Bruno netted our first in the comeback win over Southampton, scored twice as we beat Everton, put us ahead against Newcastle United and grabbed the winner at Brighton in September.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping the magician can power the Reds towards another win at the weekend, as no doubt Pep Guardiola will be praying his own midfield maestro will. Either way, don’t be surprised if it’s Fernandes or De Bruyne who decide the outcome of the 183rd Manchester derby.
Ahead of a weekend where Sunday’s sporting headlines could be dominated by Anthony Joshua’s bout with Kubrat Pulev at the SSE Arena in London, 200 miles to the north, expect another heavyweight showdown to play out at Old Trafford.
Stats sourced from Statman Dave, Transfermarkt and Fbref.com